where you will go . . .

This is an addendum of sorts to the d’var Torah about #metoo that I posted here a few days ago, in response to a question from a classmate.

After reading my d’var Torah, one of my classmates asked me about the p’sukim from Hosea (2:21-22) that are traditionally said as an intention for tefillin, while completing the wrapping of the shel yad. I addressed it briefly in this post about tefillin, but I want to do so a little more fully here.

The verses say:

כא  וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי, לְעוֹלָם; וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט, וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים. כב  וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי, בֶּאֱמוּנָה; וְיָדַעַתְּ, אֶת-יְהוָה

21 I will betroth you to me forever; indeed I will betroth you to me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving-kindness, and in compassion. 22 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you will know Adonai.

They sound so lovely! But the context is the prophet’s problematic metaphor of a marriage between Gd and Israel, in which Israel is portrayed as an unfaithful wife who has taken up prostitution (to put it delicately, in a way that the Biblical text does not). Hosea describes the punishment for this woman: physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse. In short, a complete debasement. The verses here are an affirmation of the reconciliation between Hosea and his wife, that is, between Gd and Israel.

1960Chagall_Bible_Naomiandherdaughtersinlaw

Marc Chagall, Naomi and Her Daughters-in-law (1952)

There is more than one way to understand these verses and their use in this ritual context. For instance, there is something to be said for the fact that saying these verses puts men (the ones who have traditionally laid tefillin) into the role of the woman, perhaps encouraging a kind of empathy for the subordinate position in which many women find themselves.

For more, I highly recommend the book A Feminist Companion to the Latter Prophets, edited by Athalya Brenner, which is about the book of Hosea and about sexual violence in all of the (latter) prophets. In fact, it is just one book in a series, A Feminist Companion to . . .,  and the series has saved me in many a class at my school that had no one but white men scholars on the syllabus.

But in the short time I have in completing the wrapping of my hand in the tefillin straps, I’m not interested in having to do those mental gymnastics. As suggested by the Siddur HaKohanot, I say part of the famous verse from the book of Ruth (1:16):

.כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין–עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי

Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people; your Gd, my Gd.

In addition to having special resonance for me as a convert (as Ruth is generally understood by the rabbis), these verses are an expression of much gentler and more intimate loyalty. Ruth says them to Naomi as the two prepare to leave Moab, each having lost her husband, two women cleaving to each other in grief and in hope for the future.

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